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Hygiene, Vaccines Can Stop World’s Greatest Child Killer

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 09 November 2012
Mother holds listless child tightly to her shoulder (AP Images)

This mother in Bangalore comforts her son, ill with pneumonia. Indian experts say the disease kills more than 400,000 Indian children every year.

Washington — How to save children’s lives from pneumonia will be getting a lot of attention on World Pneumonia Day (WPD) November 12.

The Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia, a partnership of more than 140 government, international and philanthropic organizations, sponsors WPD to raise awareness that pneumonia is the top killer of children under age 5 worldwide. With 99 percent of the deaths occurring in the developing world, 1.3 million young children died from pneumonia in 2011.

The disease is both preventable and treatable. WPD, first observed in 2009, is an attempt to broadcast the importance of protecting children from developing pneumonia by obtaining accurate diagnoses and proper medications to save young lives.

Scaling up access to vaccines is one of the key strategies for quashing pneumococcal disease, the leading cause of deadly pneumonia, and that effort has made significant progress in recent years. The Republic of Congo is one of the most recent nations to add the pneumococcal vaccine to its expanded immunization program, which is expected to reach more than 164,000 children between the ages of 1 and 2 by the end of this calendar year.

UNICEF reports that Congo is the 15th sub-Saharan African country to add the pneumococcal vaccination to its standard bundle of childhood inoculations. But UNICEF’s Congo representative, Marianne Flach, said parents have to make sure the immunization regimen is followed.

“It is essential that each parent and community make sure that all the children between the age of 2 and 11 months are vaccinated,” said Flach.

Immunizations are important, but preventive steps are also recommended by the Global Coalition Against Child Pneumonia. They include:

• Maternal breast feeding.

• Hand washing with clean water.

• Environmental sanitation.

• Vitamin A supplements.

• Eliminating household air pollution, especially smoke from unsafe cook stoves.

The Global Coalition Against Pneumonia asserts that pneumonia control must be accelerated if the world is to reach the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal of reducing mortality of children under age 5 by two-thirds by 2015.

Pneumonia is also a great economic burden for families, communities and governments, the coalition says. Greater disease prevention efforts could help avoid the costs of treatment and other costs that can occur due to family illness by $51 billion, according to the coalition.

U.S. organizations that are members of the coalition include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves; the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics.